Golden Tulip

“We write with pencils, not pens:” Golden Tulip President Amine E. Moukarzel and the plan to grow the brand

A veteran hotelier of over three decades, Amine E. Moukarzel has vast experience in managing and leading international hotel chains. From winning awards as a hotel operator with Holiday Inn to developing the luxurious Crown Plaza brand in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Moukarzel spent the past few decades at the helm of some of the premier hotel brands in the region before joining Golden Tulip and heading the fastest expanding hotel management company in the MENA region.

12 years ago, Moukarzel founded of Flamingo Hotel Management Company with a staff of just three. Today, Flamingoemploys 22 executives and 6,000 employees around the region, staffing a total of 70 hotels under the Golden Tulip Hotels, Suites & Resorts in the MENA under Moukarzel’s leadership as President of the Group. 

The Golden Tulip grew from 43 hotels at the end of 2011 to60 hotels at the end of the subsequent year and 70 to date, making the group the 2nd largest European group and the 8th largest worldwide with its brands: Royal Tulip, Golden Tulip, Tulip Inn, Kyriad Prestige, Kyriad, Campanile and Premiere Classe. Today, Moukarzel’s plan is to open one Golden Tulip hotel every month.

“We write with pencils, not pens, when we talk development. Decision-making is quick. We don’t need to have all the corporate decision processes. We care, we dare, we do…we develop and we diversify,” Said Moukarzel of his brand’s ambitious strategy.

With a focus on serving the local community through training, human resources development, and invigorated tourism and hospitality, the Golden Tulip brand professes a commitment to developing the young generation of each of its hotel locales, a plan Moukarzel himself often refers to as the “Omanization,” “Saudiazation,” and likewise of regional hotel locations. As Moukarzel says, “We believe that each hotel deserves better business, and each employee deserves a chance for a better opportunity.”

There have been reports that Golden Tulip plans to double its MENA portfolio by 2016. Could you explain your expansion strategy; are you focusing on specific countries and areas?

The establishment of the brand equity in the region complemented by our large portfolio being part of Louvre Hotels Group worldwide has given us a stronger platform to develop hotels in the region.  As properties develop in the promising markets of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and Qatar,they havehelped us in developing hotels in other countries.  For instance, five years ago we had no hotels in Lebanon. We developed the first hotel four years ago, the Golden Tulip Hotel De Ville, and then we moved into the second, and today we have four hotels in operation and one hotel under construction.  This makes us the largest single brand in Lebanon.  As such our aim is to add up at least three to five hotels in the next three years. 

Among your planned locations there will be one 5-star Royal Tulip opening in Amwaj Island, Bahrain. What led to your decision to make Bahrain the location for your premier luxury hotel? What are your aspirations for the Royal Tulip brand in the MENA region?

As to a matter of fact this will be our third hotel in our plan to havefive to six Royal Tulip Luxurious Hotels, after our first acquisition of Al Rasheed Hotel, a stunning property of 440 rooms and suites in Baghdad. The Royal Tulip Alexandria opened on July 1st this year with 477 rooms a stunning five star property in Egypt overlooking the green waters of the Mediterranean, withextensive restaurants,a night club, auditorium and bars, a truly luxurious property.

That then takes us to the construction of the Royal Tulip in Bahrain,another luxurious property under construction expected to open in one year’s time. When the opportunity knocks and we realize that the property niche is of five star quality and will complement our strong presence in the region, we promote the Royal Tulip brand.

Thus a new Royal Tulip in Erbil is under construction, and our existing Golden Tulip Carthage in Tuniswill be converted and developed into the five star brand.We have extensive plans by year end in Algeria, Tunisia, and on.

Our aspiration is for the Royal Tulip brand to continue to cater to the discerning traveler, a client wishing to savor the Middle East hospitality with the flair and luxury.Our aim is to achieve 12 hotels in the region in the next three to five years, sailing our boats and raising our flags to reach 100 hotels in the MENA region with the current 70 hotels of the three brands. 

To date you have received 9 MENA Hotel Awards for Best four-star service. How do you personally maintain and promote this quality in the brand and service?

The brand is the offering; the brand is the promise—the experience[SO1] . Having new hotels, aggressive marketing campaigns, providing excellent services and value for money, all bring our customers back. Our strong acumen of employee motivation leads us all the way to quality the service of our products.

This does not mean if you are in the three- to four-star category that you do not have the best hygiene standards, excellent food and beverage scale and courteous service.   As such we give freedom to our managers to operate and have a system of support with creative promising standards, complemented by inspections and quality assurance.  The yearly Mystery Guest report puts our hotels at the helm of competition of high standards, and scores within our system as to the selection of the “Hotel of the Year” under the Golden Tulip flag or the Tulip Inn flag or the Royal Tulip flag respectively.  Such a vehicle has provided the opportunity to compete in region-wide competitions and award programs making such hotels successfully maintain their standards of quality operation and service.  Our aim is always that customers have an experience and their stay should be memorable for what they encounter, what they experience, and for them to come back.

Can you tell us more about Golden Tulip's recent partnership with Middle East Airlines on Cedar Miles? What led to this partnership and what qualities do you feel your two companies share?

Golden Tulip Hotels worldwide is proud of this alliance, which offers flights from Beirut to 30 destinations in Europe, the Gulf, Middle East & Africa. We would not be as successful in the MENA region without having the “Cedar Miles,” especially with their alliance with Skyteam complementing and improving our presence with a major Arab carrier and international airlines. Our partnership with our home base Middle East Airlines shall be the tip of the iceberg, especially with our strong presence in the region, as we are growing our portfolio we are witnessing also the growth of MEA with new destinations and additional frequencies.

Providing a new opportunity and improving such loyalty programs to our customers by welcoming the Cedar Miles members to our hotels, I take this opportunity to thank Mr. Al Hout and his team for the time spent to have this partnership become a reality.Our presence in our home country Lebanon is getting stronger with the Golden Tulip Hotel de Ville, Golden Tulip Serenada and Golden Tulip Galleria currently operating, and with the latest opening of our new five-star hotel the Golden Tulip Jiyeh Marina resort and our fifth Golden Tulip hotel under construction in Achrafieh.

In the past you have franchised many of your MENA locations. Could you describe your brand strategy for expansion in the MENA region?

The fastest approach to hospitality development, especially in the three- and four-star categories is the franchise formula.  We at Golden Tulip MENA are pretty strong in providing a successful franchise formula especially with our regional and worldwide support from brand standards all the way to distribution.

In the past hotel owners who did not believe in hotel management or giving their property to management companies found an exile through the franchise formula. As such we had granted several franchise agreements in particular to major groups; leading owners in their countries who wanted to manage their day to day operations for their own reasons who needed a brand of international experience, yet had the know-how and provided assistance on standards and operating procedures.  The middle of the road investor prefers to have franchise, which was a win-win situation for both franchisors and franchisees, and helped us as a platform to establish the brand name and brand reputation.

What would you say are some of the key aspects to the Golden Tulip brand? What elements of continuity do you maintain across your locations?

Our continuity is focused in successful performance, a transparent approach to our management and dedicated regional executives who are in the field visiting the properties and tackling issues at all aspects. On the other hand, the strong development in human resources and localization is carried out successfully with our Omanization drive, Bahrainization drive and Saudization drive, to say the least.  We have staff that have been with us since the inception of the operation, and we have seen many of them growing to having families, having children and even their children begin to work with us in the company[SO2] .  This is a pride to witness in any organization as people are those who make the difference.

As for the market aspect, with our knowledge of the language and culture, as well as the motivation of success and the perception of the projects as a leading hotel group in the region, we provide our customer base with three loyalty programs very few companies have.

Connections is a loyalty program for airlines and third party companies with whom we deal that has been complemented and strengthened by the latest addition to the group, Middle East Airlines. MEA is a member of Sky Team and also the fourth Arab carrier with whom we offer loyalty points.  Many other Arab airlines are being offered the sameprogram in order to cater to a larger spectrum of customers, especially the Arab traveler who is always on the go and has a good travel pattern not only in the region, but also Europe and to the world. 

Flavour is our frequent guest program; guests can earn points based on the monetary value of their booking and redeem their points with hotel stays, gifts, or even exchange them with frequent flyer miles.

Ambassador club is aimed to attract business travelers, rewarding corporate travel managers when they book with Golden Tulip brand properties, and specially designed to reach the real decision makers behind business travel and meetings: personal assistants, travel managers and travel organizers.  

The major portfolio of the Golden Tulip group is in the MENA region, what would you personally attribute the success of Golden Tulip's regional reputation to?

The strong development of hotels, new construction, conversion of properties, our own flexibility and knowledge of the market place, dedication and owner’s relations are all attributes leading to Golden Tulip’s strong presence in the region. These are complemented by the group deliverables whether in franchise or management. Strong distribution and e-commerce have been the strong poinst for owners to acquire and to and believe in the brands of Golden Tulip and Tulip Inn. As the brands become more visible and as owners believe more in having a brand, what is better than having a brand of choice, a preferred brand who respond not only to customer satisfaction but recognize customers’ needs?

What type of client do you visualize for the Golden Tulip brand? What about Royal Tulip, and Tulip Inn? Do you see yourself as a chain of business hotels, family hotels, luxury?

We attribute the popularity of the brand among GCC and international travelers to the MENA to the versatility of the brand, from primarily mid-market hotels to luxury hotels all offering “International Standards with Local Flavours.”

Our full-service hotels, long-stay suites or hotel apartments, relaxing and elegant hotels and resorts, are all comfortable, welcoming and value-for-money properties convenient for business and leisure travelers.

The Golden Tulip four-star properties cater to travelers who demand international standards but seek authentic hospitality and local flair. Royal Tulip five-star properties are located in extraordinary settings andprovide elegant and luxurious facilities, highly personalized services, ultra-modern amenities and a deluxe level of comfort.

Comfortable. Welcoming. Value for money. These are hallmarks of Tulip Inn hotels and suites. Conveniently located in city centers and business districts, they focus on providing the essence of great friendly stay and functional accommodation.

Today customers combine their travel for business with their holiday[SO3] . Mixing up MICE, prospects, providing also entertainment leisure programs which provide also an opportunity in such destinations like Dubai, Beirut, Tunis to combine, thus business hotels today are called upon to provide a platform to offer entertainment and to support yet to complement the value travel business and leisure.

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